7 Things To Know About Scientist Walter S. McAfee, Who Had A Breakthrough That Launched The Space Age

7 Things To Know About Scientist Walter S. McAfee, Who Had A Breakthrough That Launched The Space Age


Walter S. McAfee (Photo: Monmouth University

Black-American scientist and astronomer Walter Samuel McAfee participated in the world’s first lunar radar echo experiments. In essence, he helped launch the Space Age.

A mathematical physicist who worked for many decades at Fort Monmouth in the United States Army Communications-Electronics Command, Dr. McAfee also lectured in atomic and nuclear physics and solid state electronics at Monmouth College from 1958 to 1975.

He was recognized with an honorary doctorate of science from Monmouth in 1985.

Here are seven things to know about the scientist.

1. McAfee, the Pioneer

Born in Sept. 2, 1914, McAfee, succeeded despite dealing with the constraints of racial segregation in the U.S. and was a pioneer in the field of science.

2. Project Diana

McAfee gained recognition with Project Diana.

The Project Diana was named for the Roman moon goddess Diana and was an experimental project of the U.S. Army Signal Corps in 1946 to bounce radar signals off the moon, and receive the reflected signals. It was the first experiment of its kind and the first active attempt to probe another celestial body Monmouth University reported. McAfee was behind the vital theoretical calculations including a radar cross-section of the moon, radar coverage pattern, and the distance to the moon. The successful experiment is regarded as the beginning of the Space Age.


3. Contribution excluded

McAfee was initially excluded from coverage of the successful Project Diana event. Months later, he was recognized for his contribution to Project Diana.

4. McAfee, Life and Education

McAfee was born in Ore City, Texas, to Susie and Luther McAfee. His father was a mechanic and carpenter, while his mother was an educator.

He earned a Bachelor’s degree in Mathematics in 1934 from Wiley College, a Historically Black College and University. In 1937, he earned a Master of Science degree from Ohio State University.

He went on to teach mathematics and biological sciences at a junior high school in Columbus, Ohio. In 1941, He married Viola Winston, who was teaching French at the same junior high school, Black Past reported.

He furthered his education by earning his Ph.D. from Cornell University in 1949. By 1956 he had been awarded with one of the first Secretary of the Army Research and Study Fellowships by President Dwight D. Eisenhower. Under the fellowship, McAfee spent two years studying radio astronomy at Harvard University.

5. McAfee Joins Army

In 1942, McAfee joined the United States Army Signal Corps Engineering Laboratories at Fort Monmouth in Belmar, New Jersey. It was through this role that he became involved in Project Diana, where he collaborated with scientists and engineers.

He served as a scientist for 42 years at the Fort Monmouth Laboratory.

6. Science Hall of Fame

In 1982, he was inducted into the Science Hall of Fame at his alma mater, Wiley College. Monmouth College (now Monmouth University) recognized his scientific accomplishments, service to country, and commitment to academic excellence with an honorary doctorate in 1985. In 2015, he was the first African American to be inducted into the Army Materiel Command’s Hall of Fame.

7. McAfee, the mentor

The Black pioneer taught and mentored young innovators and leaders as a professor at then Monmouth College. He was a trustee at Brookdale Community College, a scholarship fundraiser, and an organizer of enrichment programs for high school students, The Two River Times reported.

He died on Feb. 18, 1995.

Walter S. McAfee (Photo: Monmouth University, https://www.monmouth.edu/university-advancement/mcafee/)